Why is Star Wars more popular than God?

I’m not a Star Wars fan.

I don’t hate it; I don’t love it. I’m normally quite agnostic on the subject.

I don’t begrudge people having favorite movies; I have favorite movies. I don’t begrudge them sharing their favorites with their kids (though it will be quite a few years before my kids appreciate any of the movies that I like,) nor do I look askance at movie-themed products (those Frozen-middle grade novels strike me as a cute idea.)

But when I see moms dressing their infants in Darth Vader onesies, I think society has gotten really, really weird.

Target is filled with mountain of Star Wars crap, much of it regular products with a Star Wars logo slapped on. Fuzzy infant socks with a tiny picture of Yoda’s head on the side; beer holders and bouncy balls and ugly sweaters.

I’m not judging the sweaters; they’re advertised as “ugly sweaters.” (Why would anyone purposefully spend money on an “ugly sweater”?)

I can’t get to the diaper section without feeling like my soul is being crushed beneath the mountains of useless crap produced solely so we can buy it, wrap it up, and exchange it for someone else’s box of worthless crap in imitation of ritual.

And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint:30 And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom.31 And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright.32 And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?

33 And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob.

34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.

At least you can eat lentils. How much have we sacrificed for this pile of crap?

70% of American adults claim to be “Christians;” that drops to only 56% among “Young Millenials” (folks 19-25 years old.) But parents are disproportionately religious, which probably explains why, according to le Wik, “62 percent of children say religion is important to them, 26 percent say it’s somewhat important, and 13 percent say it’s not important.”

Interestingly, on a related note:

From Faith in the Family: How belief passes from one generation to the next
From Faith in the Family: How belief passes from one generation to the next

According to Vern Bengston’s research, Jews and Mormons are particularly good at passing on their religious beliefs to their children. He credits this to these religions’ intergenerational focus and household rituals. Part of it is probably also the fact that these religions are still focused on having children, and religion is pointless without children. If you’re looking for a religion to raise your kids in and have no particular preference of your own, Mormonism or Judaism might be the ticket.

Bengston also finds that a major influence on a child’s likelihood of adopting their parents’ religion is how good the relationship is between them and their parents, particularly their father:

From Faith and the Family: How religious belief passes from one generation to the next
From Faith and the Family: How belief passes from one generation to the next

If your dad’s a jerk, you’re likely to reject his beliefs. (Does this mean divorce is driving the increase in atheism?)

At any rate, no matter how you slice it, over half of parents–and children–claim to be Christian.

What percent of people are Star Wars fans?

One amusing study found that 4.8% of Alaskans “liked” Star Wars on Facebook. Alaskans appear to be the biggest Star Wars fans, followed by WA, OR, and Utah. Star Wars has the lowest % of likes down in the Deep South. In other words, English and German-descended folks like Star Wars.

I always groan a little when someone produces a map of ethnicity without realizing it.
(I always groan a little when someone produces a map of ethnicity without realizing it:

The "Americans" are mostly Scottish/Irish
Note the very high quantity of English in Utah and Maine, vs their relative absence in the Deep South [highly black] and MA/RI/Conn/NJ [Irish, Italians.])
A Facebook Poll asked people to list their favorite books; while Harry Potter came in first, 7.2% of people listed the Bible.

Obviously this is not a good way of comparing affection for Star Wars to affection to the Bible, but having interacted with people, 7% feels rather close to the actual percentage of real Christians.

There’s always a chicken and egg dynamic to marketing and advertising. How much of the crush of Star Wars merchandise is driven by actual demand, and how much is everyone just buying Star Wars crap because there happens to be an enormous pile of it?

There’s another thing that makes me uncomfortable: this notion that Star Wars somehow reflects my culture. Or as an acquaintance claimed this morning, “The Big Bang Theory.” For the sake of this post, dear readers, I have ventured into the nether reaches of YouTube and watched The Big Bang Theory highlight reels (I can’t seem to find any full episodes; probably a copyright thing.)

The Big Bang Theory is not my culture. (You may have noticed a distinct lack of Batman jokes on this blog.) Neither is Star Wars. Yes, some nerds like Star Wars, but we are not the people who motivated Target to stock enormous piles of Star Wars merchandise. I have nothing personal against these franchises, but I recoil against the claim that they have anything to do with my culture.

At any rate, no one is stopping you from buying a Veggie Tales DVD (Amazon has a ton of Veggie Tales free for instant streaming if you have Prime membership; there are also a bunch on Netflix,) or Queen Esther action figure, Bible Heroes trading cards or Anarchy in the Monarchy card game–no, wait, the last one is just funny, not religious.

I’ve never understood why, but the average “Christian” parent won’t buy any of that. Perhaps their kids just don’t want religious toys (though I would have loved ’em.) Perhaps my Christian friend was telling the honest truth when they said, “No one likes a Jesus freak.” Maybe most “Christians” are less devout than I am (which is really saying something, since I’m an atheist.) Maybe the folks who decide which products will be carried at major stores aren’t interested in religiously-oriented items, and everyone else just goes along, sheep-like, with whatever they see. I don’t really know.

But if you care about passing on your faith, consider abandoning the materialistic deluge and spend some quality time with your kids instead. Even if you don’t care about faith, I still recommend that. If you don’t have kids, substitute the loved ones you have. They’re worth a lot more than a Yoda-shaped mug.

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Princesses all the way Down

Doing my Chanukah/Christmas/Festivus/whateverthefuck I’m celebrating shopping. [Note: I wrote this post a while back.] Looking at the toys. Thinking about what the kids would like. Remembering my own childhood. Reflecting on Barbies, Lammily, Bratz, Princesses; Ninjago, Thomas, Super Mario Bros.

Once upon a time, I was the kind of person who stressed out a lot about the kinds of messages society sends kids, the way parents force their kids into particular molds, etc.

Then I actually had kids, didn’t get enough sleep for about 8 years and counting, and mellowed the fuck out because my priorities became things like, “What do you mean you didn’t eat lunch?” and “oh no there are no wipes in the diaper bag” and “GO TO BED IT IS PAST YOUR BEDTIME.”

I have also learned some things like, “Even though we own tons of dolls, the boys never touch them,” and “the girl likes to do everything her brothers do, but always seems to append ‘princess’ to it.”

I’m going to go out on a very sturdy limb and say that gender roles are part socialization, and part innate. Some things do appeal more to boys, on average, than to girls, on average, and vice versa. Some activities appeal more, too. And in my limited observations of my small-N and their companions, girls and boys do seem to have different basic, instinctual ways of moving and relating to the world. (Basically, boys fling themselves into action, ignore you, and get in trouble more. Girls move smoothly and thoughtfully, are responsive, and generally only need gentle reprimands because they actually seem to desire to be good.)

For the past god knows however many decades, at least two as far as I’ve been aware, there’s been a fairly constant discussion, especially on the left, about the terrible terrible ways things like Barbies and Princesses and the genderization of toys socialize girls into feminine roles and give them eating disorders and generally perpetuate all of the ills of Patriarchy. Some of these arguments have been valid; many have been very silly. (You think Barbie’s bad? Seriously? Have you visited a toy aisle lately? Let me show you some Monster High Dolls’ dimensions. Or Bratz or a half-dozen other lines that are even less realistic and skinnier than Barbie.)

Despite this, these views have gotten very popular. Take the recent success (so far) of the Lammily doll, marketed as the “realistic Barbie”. You can even buy, I shit you not, stickers to simulate stretch marks, cellulite, and acne for your kid’s doll.

(You know what I suspect kids don’t really want in their toys? Realism. That’s why bright purple ponies sell better than realistic looking toy horses. The whole point of play is that it’s imaginary.)

Despite how this might sound, this is not actually progress. (Let’s assume that we want progress, where progress = fixing all of the stuff feminists complain about.) Why? Because Lammily is a single blip in the ocean of dolls that have become even less realistic than Barbie over the past 20 years.

Once upon a time, Legos were marketed (and sold) as a basically gender neutral toy. I had Legos; you probably did, too. Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs, all sorts of toys featured girls and boys on the packaging and were bought by parents of all genders. Sure, girls liked dolls and boys liked trains, but there was a lot of stuff in between. Even Disney movies aimed to be gender neutral, with such exciting flops as The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under.

Disney animation almost shut down completely under the weight of such crappy movies, until the release, in 1989, of The Little Mermaid, the first modern “princess movie” and the movie that saved Disney animation. Since then, they’ve released the occasional “Lion King”, with cross-gender appeal, (and the occasional dud, like The Hunchback of Nortre Dame, Jesus, what the hell were they thinking?) but their core success has revolved entirely around the Princesses.

Little girls love princesses. I don’t know why. I think it’s because princesses get awesome clothes and look pretty.

Lammily gets boring ass clothes and stretch marks.

When I was a kid, “princesses” were not a thing. There was She-Ra, Princess of Power, but she was a very different phenomenon. Today, it is totally normal for little girls to wear sparkly princess tutus literally everywhere. Ballet and dress-up clothes have become completely normal.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, Lego released its Star Wars lines, Ninjago, etc., until finally I suspect someone looked at the shelves and said, “Gee, all of this is explicitly marketed to boys.” So to make it up, they started a line explicitly aimed at girls, the Lego Friends.

Tinkertoys comes in pink. So do Lincoln Logs. But rare is the successful Disney animation with a male lead.

My theories:
1. Little kids don’t give a crap what grownups argue about online, and marketers have figured out some successful marketing scheme.
2. The people who complain about kids’ toys aren’t generally the people with kids. People with kids don’t care, and will buy their kids whatever.
3. People who tend to complain about kids’ toys have also chosen to have very few children compared to people who are explicitly anti-feminist and pro-genderizing of toys. As a result, the current crop of kids may actually have a tendency (socially and/or genetically induced) to want to be more gendered and play with more explicitly gendered items than previous generations.

The one exception is masculine toys linked to conservative culture, like b.b. guns. Those are probably way less popular.